What He Said

50s DadMy father was a man of few words. “All sunshine makes a desert” was his way to shake off a disappointment. “It comes with the territory” explained the dirty side of politics. After I married the wrong woman he pointed out that “White-faced cows have white-faced calves.”

Because he mumbled, talking under his breath and exhaling Camels, some of what he said was difficult to understand. “Sack of potatoes” was a lesson on how not to sit a horse. ”Keep your tail down, your head up, and your knees behind the splatter board,” reflected his horse and buggy approach to living. He addressed weight issues by pointing out, “I never saw a fat person that didn’t eat too much,” and he loved to quote his med school professor who claimed that, “If you listen to a patient long enough they’ll tell you what’s wrong with them.”

He would yell up the stairs most mornings, “You boys better get a move on. Don’t make me have to come up there and give you what for,” at which point the three of us would routinely mutter half-asleep and in unison, “What for?”

I don’t remember that he ever said what a fine job I was doing as a son, modeling good behavior and high achievement for my younger brothers and the whole town to notice and admire. I missed that. I always answered yes, sir or yes, ma’am, sang in the choir at First Methodist, was president of the Student50s Dad Council, Co-Captain of the track team, and won the Walter A. Roberts Watch for Outstanding Senior Student at graduation. He didn’t say goodbye when I left for college, just a hand shake with a nod of the head and “Don’t be a stranger.”

The last time I saw him he was in a hospital bed and bristling with tubes. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t indicate that he knew I was there, or if he knew that he was still there. I did all the talking. I thanked him for being a parent, forgave him for anything he might have regretted about our not having a closer relationship, and said that I appreciated his holding on long enough for me to get back from California to have this little conversation. Then I gave him my permission to let go, and I went to dinner with the siblings so he could die alone.     

Harpeth Rivers is a New Mexico transplant from all over who has in the last year written songs about isosceles triangles, played bass guitar with the Cheap and Easy Band, and declared himself "Retro-eclectic." His novel-in-progress is entitled Last Year.


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